Now that the bad news has dropped, what is the world going to
A report issued Sunday by 91 scientists painted a stark
portrait of how quickly the planet is heating up and how
serious the consequences are. In response, the UN
secretary-general, António Guterres, warned world leaders, “Do
what science demands before it is too late.”
The latest figures from the International Energy Agency don’t
suggest that many are listening: Carbon dioxide emissions from
the energy sector continued to grow through 2017, with a
projected rise for 2018, according to the agency.
The next two months will be crucial. In December, experts and
officials from around the world will gather in Katowice,
Poland, for a new round of international climate negotiations.
— What about the Paris Agreement?
Every country agreed, nearly three years ago, to set its own
targets to bring down its greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the
The deal specifically aspired to keep warming well below 2
degrees Celsius (3.7 degrees Fahrenheit) from preindustrial
levels. And, it was worded in such a way that countries would,
over time, have to get more ambitious in their emissions
That’s not going well. And it’s not just because the Trump
administration announced its intention to pull out of that
deal. The United States, history’s largest polluter, is nowhere
close to meeting its emissions reductions targets.
Russia, one of the world’s largest emitters, has not yet
ratified the Paris Agreement. Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions
have grown recently, mainly because large swathes of forest
were converted to farmland, and the leading contender in
Brazil’s presidential election, Jair Bolsonaro, has suggested
pulling his country out of Paris deal, too. Australia also
appears unlikely to meet its targets under its new prime
minister, Scott Morrison, a champion of the country’s coal
With rich countries falling short, some developing countries
are starting to balk. Where’s the fund you promised to help us
cope, they want to know.
The United States, under President Donald Trump, has backed out
of contributing what had been its share to the Green Climate
Fund, designed to help poor countries deal with the effects of
climate change. The Australian prime minister this week
dismissed the fund, too, saying, “I’m not going to spend money
on global climate conferences and all that nonsense.”
— What’s the next step?
The report Sunday, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, looms over the December talks in Katowice, in the heart
of Poland’s coal belt. Whether and how the report shapes the
content of the negotiations is being fought over.
Some countries would prefer to keep the discussions limited to
technical issues, like what kinds of rules should be
established to implement the Paris accord. Others, led by small
island countries like the Marshall Islands, want the meeting to
go much further and consider tougher emissions targets.
The European Union on Tuesday signalled that it may put higher
ambitions on the table, saying the report made it “a matter of
extreme urgency to strengthen the global response to the threat
of climate change.”
Scientists have often been far ahead of diplomats on the
subject of climate change, and so even activists who are
pressing for more ambitious action are sounding cautious about
how much impact this bombshell of a report will have.
“It should be a fire under the chairs of the leaders and their
negotiators,” said David Waskow, who follows international
negotiations for the World Resources Institute, a research
organization. “The question right now is, in fact, are leaders
going to hear this wake-up alarm?”
— What would it take to avoid the worst?
There is wide consensus among scientists that a few big things
need to happen, and many policymakers know it, too. They
include switching electricity supply systems from coal, weaning
cars and trucks off gasoline, and saving forests, because
they’re a big carbon sink. There’s also wide agreement that
there should be a price on pollution, in the form of a carbon
All of that has been on the table for quite some time. As
President Emmanuel Macron of France pointed out on Twitter,
“The IPCC brings scientific proof: We have everything we need
to combat climate change. But everyone has to act now!”
Why is this hard? There are political headwinds of various
In the United States, Charles and David Koch, libertarian
billionaire brothers with deep interests in the fossil fuel
sector, have handsomely funded efforts to block a carbon tax.
In Brazil, the powerful agribusiness lobby, buoyed by global
demand for soybeans, has pushed to convert more forest land
into farmland. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s
carbon tax proposal faces intense pushback from the provinces.
And China, as the factory of the world, keeps burning coal to
feed its manufacturing sector.
The one difference with China is that, for the sake of domestic
political stability, China’s leaders are eager to clean up the
air. China is expected to reach peak emissions in 2050.
The question is when does that political tipping point come for
other countries? And does the science matter at all?
“There’s a big gap between what the science requires and what
governments are delivering,” said Mohamed Adow, who follows
climate change for Christian Aid, a London-based development
charity. He called the IPCC report “a game changer.”
“There’s no excuse for governments anymore,” he said.